Private homecomings: Preserving the peace with family

Private homecomings: Preserving the peace with family

By Kristine Schellhaas

Homecomings are synonymous with our military lifestyle and I was blessed recently to be a part of my friend’s for a few brief moments, to videotape their family reunion.

I too felt the excitement as her Marine stepped off the bus and was thrilled that I could repay the favor of capturing those special moments, just as she captured mine several years earlier. 

I often think back to our first reunion and wish that we could do a lot of things differently. 

My first homecoming was 10 years ago after the initial invasion of Iraq. I was so excited and nervous to welcome my husband home, especially after living with all the stress and media attention focused on the war.

However, the happy reunion wasn’t always a happy moment for us. We had to learn how to deal with family members and their stresses as well.

Naturally, I wasn’t the only one worried about my Marine’s safety; his mom was understandably worried as well. The hard part came down to a simple conversation relaying our thoughts and feelings about keeping the reunion to just the two of us, alone.

How does one go about explaining this to extended family members who want to be involved? It’s difficult to say the least.

Let me share some history with you. We were newlyweds when he first deployed. We had very little time together since he joined the Marine Corps due to the demands of constant workups, but fortunately had dated several years, so we had time to get to know one another and our family members.

We actually waited for a holiday weekend to ensure that we could in fact, get married, because every other weekend was spent in the field or on the water, preparing for war.

Fast forward six months and we were all relishing his imminent return. Everyone was excited and couldn’t wait to welcome him home… and then I dropped the bomb.

This is a mistake I wish I could take back. Some of you may remember when the war first started: there was little communication, no email, few phone calls, and Skype was altogether non-existent.

I received a call from my husband and he relayed his wishes to me: for us to be alone together at the homecoming. Of course, this is what I wanted too, but since he was the one away fighting, I was going to honor his wishes and tell his family since phone calls were difficult to make.

I didn’t think his mom and step-dad would take it so badly since my husband had deployed twice before and they didn’t come to those homecomings.

We really didn’t think it would be any different now that we were married, but somehow they did think it was different, and suddenly I was the bad guy for delivering the news. Saying it did not go over well is putting it mildly. 

I shed many tears that night and bared the burden of responsibility for the situation. His family was upset that they were going to miss out on his “war homecoming,” meanwhile I kept thinking to myself that homecomings (wartime or not) are not glamorous.

Many have this idea of a ticker-tape parade and want to participate in this grand event, possibly something similar to the famous image of the sailor finding a nurse, kissing her and being lost in the moment.  

Most of us know better; homecomings are usually cold, in the middle of the night, at an isolated part of the base, with a lot of waiting involved. You’ll know that they are there, probably within a mile of you, but then they have to turn in weapons or count all the gear before they are released.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic few moments and then it’s over. Many of our military members want to simply embrace their immediate family and return home to reconnect. Does that make them bad guys? I don’t think so.

My lesson learned: let the military member relay their wishes to their parents and family members themselves because bad news is never as bad coming directly from them.

To the parents, in-laws and other family members, remember that your service member is facing a difficult period of time where they’re transitioning from the constant demands of war and deployment responsibilities.

Imagine working a job where you’ve been on for 24/7 for months at a time? It’s difficult to say that least, but you need to understand and respect what the service member wants. There is no “right” to be there and it’s not a public event.

Quite possibly, you are a parent reading this article and thinking to yourself that I shouldn’t be giving advice since my son or daughter hasn’t been to war.

You’re right, my children haven’t joined the armed forces yet, and I say that lovingly because I know that I’ll be in your shoes soon enough… but I know that I will be a much better in-law or parent with more realistic expectations because of the experiences that I’ve been through as a spouse.

So in this situation, I refer to friend, author, and parent Ellie Kay, author of Heroes at Home, who just happens to be married to a retired veteran with seven kids, many of whom are currently serving in our armed forces.

She writes: 

  • Ask First: Don’t call your daughter or son-in-law and simply announce your intentions to come... ask permission to come, and be prepared for a “no” or a “please, not right now” answer.
  • It’s Not About You: If you get one of the two negative responses about a visit, remember that this is not about you. Don’t make life harder for these family members by insisting on your so-called “family rights” or “responsibility” to help.

All in all, stay positive that your family members are coming home, because after all, it’s a joyous celebration to reunite with your family member, even if it’s a few days or weeks later.

Spouses: have you faced a similar situation with your in-laws or parents? Parents: have you understood when you’ve been asked to wait?

About the author

Kristine Schellhaas is the founder of USMC Life and is a finalist in the 2013 Military Spouse of the Year program. She has spent 16 years together with her Marine; they have two children, several duty stations, and a wealth of life experiences to rely upon. Kristine has endured four wartime deployments, been involved in many volunteer programs, clubs, and more. She founded the website USMC Life tin 2009 and launched Semper Feisty Radio in 2012.